Advice

Miss Information: How do I know if I’m gay?

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Have a question? Email erin@nerve.com. Letters may be edited for length, content and clarity.

Dear Miss Information,

I’m almost twenty, male, and a college freshman. My whole life I’ve been sexually attracted to girls: I’ve had crushes, girlfriends, and one-night stands, and I’ve honestly been turned on by all of these encounters. For the past four months, I’ve been dating this really cute girl and we get along great.

Here’s the issue: in the past two or three weeks, I’ve stopped being turned on by most girls, even when I know they’re attractive. At the same time, I’ve begun to find some guys sexually attractive. This has never happened before; the issue just popped into my brain. These feelings don’t carry over into the bedroom: when I masturbate, I get turned on by porn with women, and sex with my girlfriend is still fun and amazing. So aside from the sex with my girlfriend, the few women I’m attracted to, and the porn, I feel that I’ve turned gay.

I’ve never had to question my sexual identity before, and so needless to say, I’m bothered. I haven’t told my girlfriend yet, but I will if it doesn’t go away soon. Am I bisexual? Or am I gay, despite having liked girls my entire life and despite enjoying having sex with them? Or am I just young and confused and unsure about a lot of things in my life, and going through something normal that a lot of people feel? Any advice would help. — Unsure

Dear Unsure,

Relax, guy. You’re not gay. I don’t mean to be glib here, but I actually laughed out loud when I read this sentence: “So aside from the sex with my girlfriend, the few women I’m attracted to, and the porn, I feel that I’ve turned gay.” It’s like a drug addict saying, “So aside from the weed, prescription pills, Jack Daniels, and a couple pulls off a can of computer duster, I can honestly say that I am completely sober.”

Our sexualities are always shifting and changing, whether we’re conscious of it or not. The fluctuations can be minor, like how I’m attracted to both big, bearded lumberjacks and skinny punker twinks, depending on the day, phase of the moon, or how many shots of espresso I’ve dumped into my morning coffee. They can also be life-altering and monumental, like my friend who went from vanilla-hetero-married to BDSM-swinger-slash-amateur-porn-star.

The key is to greet each new twist and turn with openness and curiosity. For most of us, this gets easier as we get older. I remember the first time I wacked it to lesbian imagery. I was probably around seventeen and worried as hell: would I be forced to start drinking polarity tea and wearing unbleached organic cotton? Is this something you sign up for and then can’t get out of, like the Columbia Record Club?

Now I’m bored by Sapphic porn and realize that attraction and action aren’t necessarily tied. Looking back, I can see that I was into girl-on-girl for a number of reasons:

* It was taboo. By my Midwestern, pre-internet standards, anyway.

* It was available. Again, pre-internet. My entire erotica collection consisted of a few tattered spank mags and some Penthouse Forum books copped from the local mall.

* It represented an unknown. I didn’t have any female friends. Girls were a sexy mystery. I was always smoking pot and eating MexiMelts with my boys.

Freshman year of college is particularly chaotic and emotional. Your jones for the male sex could be a symptom of generalized nerves, a sort of emotional hypochondria. It could also be representative of undiagnosed problems with your girlfriend, the beginning of a bisexual phase, or the tippy-top of a huge gay iceberg. You just don’t know.

But here’s the thing: once you get comfortable with not knowing — and accept that whatever the outcome, you’ll deal with it and get through it — that’s when you really start to figure out what’s what. It’s not the feelings that are dangerous, it’s how we react to them. You don’t want to keep everything inside and then one day blow up, but you don’t need to delve into and share every little last thought, resulting in a constant state of elevated emotions.

I know that’s a lot of feelings mush, so here’s what I’d do if I were you:

1. Read. Mostly books about sexuality but also self-help and memoirs. Getting multiple perspectives will help you come to your own conclusions and realize that you aren’t the only one who’s ever gone through this.

2. Talk. Preferably to a shrink, but if you can’t afford one, then to friends, real-life or on a message board. You can even try journaling. Putting pen to paper often gives great clarity.

3. Wait. I’m pro-honesty, but there’s a big constituency out there saying, “He’s curious about dudes? OMG! GAY4LIFE! Drive a glitter-encrusted stake through his heart!” Do you trust that your girlfriend isn’t the type to get caught up in the “no such thing as bi when it comes to guys” propaganda? The last thing you need is to be shamed. I’m not saying she won’t be cool, but if I were you, I’d do some more self-exploration before telling my girlfriend.

Dear Miss Information,

I’m thirty-one, live in a major U.S. city and until recently hadn’t dated much. My few long-term relationships (two to three years each) were born from friendships, work relationships, late night hook-ups, etc. Now I’m going on dates with people I don’t know very well, and it occurs to me that I don’t know the protocol for not seeing someone again.

Case in point: I bumped into a girl at a job fair, discovered we share a mutual friend, and ended up spending half the day with her. She’s hilarious and we had excellent chemistry. We went on a date a week later, during which I realized that although she really kicks ass, she isn’t right for me. I dropped her off, said goodbye (tiny kiss, no tongue), and that was that.

She’s texted me since, looking for a return engagement; I’m just trying to look busy. Should I explain myself to her? Fall off the face of the earth (hard with the internet and a mutual friend)? Or should I have told her while we were out? — I Hate Giving Bad News

Dear I Hate Giving Bad News,

I don’t know if I’ve ever told a first date, to his face, that I don’t want to go out with him again. And not only do I get paid to be a loud-mouthed authority, but I’ve been on more dates than Sienna Miller meets Don Juan and Blanche Devereaux. If you can do so in a way that’s tactful, then sure. I just don’t know if that kind of honesty is required on the very first date. Most people would agree an in-person “I don’t want to see you again” is going way above and beyond.

Of course, I’m not advocating your “falling off the face of the earth” option, either. It’s stressful for her, stressful for you, stressful for your friend, and — as your letter says — not really viable, long-term. The truth is, you’re not busy. Busy is shorthand for, “DO NOT WANT.” There are people that keep love alive across prison walls, hospital beds, state lines, even countries. If Barack and Michelle can find time for romance, then we can too, despite our intramural basketball teams, director-of-marketing positions, home renovations, and demanding iPhones.

Just to clarify, I’m fine with “too busy” as an excuse to someone you don’t want to date. As long as it’s directly communicated. What I’m not fine with is “I got too busy” as an excuse for not having the courtesy to officially write someone off.

Here’s what I want you to do: send her an email or make a brief phone call. If it’s the latter, start the convo by saying you can’t talk long, your batteries are almost dead or some other white lie that will get you off the phone. Then tell her the truth: that you had a fun time, you are sorry if this seems a little out of the blue because you were so enthusiastic on the date, but you just aren’t feeling a connection. You don’t have to go into the details of what you don’t find attractive, or apologize as if you were depriving her of something magical and life-giving. Acknowledge that you run in the same circles, that you’re sure you’ll have a run-in sometime in the future, and you hope it will be a friendly one.

After that, you’re off the hook. Literally. You don’t have to engage in multiple emails in which she pleads her case, or answer any more calls, profile messages, etc. Not that she’ll be likely to reach out again; most people will thank you for your honesty and go on to the next candidate.

Readers, do you think a first date requires a formal follow-up, or is a fadeout all that’s owed? If you think there should be some form of rejection message, is it okay to send an email or does it have to be a phone call? What about texting? Facebook? Leave a comment in the Feedback section. Let’s help I Hate Giving Bad News with his dating protocol.